Balancing Liberty & Order
What is the proper role of government? While many people have a general
philosophy about what government should and should not do, they often struggle
to answer the question when faced with specific policy problems.
At least some of this difficulty might be cleared
up by thinking of American government, and all government for that matter,
as a constant struggle to balance liberty and order. Think about what
life would really be like if we lived in the "state of nature" that
either Hobbes or Locke described. You would have absolute, limitless
individual liberty. You could go where you wanted to go, eat what you
wanted to eat, and hang out with whomever you wanted. There would be
no laws against drug use, speeding or even stealing.
But you would not be the only one with absolute freedom.
Everyone around you would be similarly free to do whatever they chose
to do. Consequently, when someone wanted something you had in your possession,
they could simply take it, assuming they were stronger and faster than
you. And if they ended up injuring or killing you to get what you had,
or if you hurt or killed them protecting your life and property, that
would be the end of the conflict. No police officers would come, there
would be no charges filed, there would be no trial, no punishment. In
the state of nature, each individual is the "police force" that
protects his or her own life, liberty and property.
The role of government, then, is to secure the liberties
enjoyed in the state of nature by limiting individual behavior when it
harms others. Exactly what those limits should be and what kinds of behavior
should remain unregulated are the subjects of intense political debate.
Adjusting the continually tipping balance between liberty and order is
the primary business of government & politics.
Second Treatise of Civil Government John Locke 1690
Reasearch and Study Helps
Is the United States a Democracy?
Do laws that legislate morality violate the
separation of church and state?
Is Microsoft a monopoly? If so, why does it
Think About It
What would the world be like without government?
What makes some governments
good and others bad?
What are the responsibilities of living in a free land?
Applying What You've Learned
Make a list of problems in your community, city, state or region. What government
programs have been established to address these problesm? Are the programs
effective? For each problem on your list, indicate something you or
your family could do to help solve the problem. Choose one of the problems
and make a plan to do something about it.